Tag Archives: Yami Gautam

Movie Review: Sanam Re (2016)

sanamre1 Star (out of 4)

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Screenwriter Sanjeev Dutta is stuck in a time warp. His previous film, Heropanti, was an out of touch throwback when it released in 2014. His latest movie, Sanam Re, is similarly dated in its notions of characterization and storytelling.

Director Divya Khosla Kumar compounds the problems by relying on goofball sound effects to set the tone. Such effects may have been the norm in Hindi films ten years ago, but they’ve fallen out of favor in all but the broadest comedies. It’s as though Khosla Kumar and Dutta are determined not to evolve.

Pulkit Samrat of Fukrey fame plays Akash, an office lackey desperate for a promotion that will send him to America. He has a blowhard boss (played by Manoj Joshi), a wacky landlord, and a sassy maid — required characters if you want to make a movie that the audience has seen a thousand times before.

A family emergency requires Akash to return home to his quaint mountain town, a snow-covered place frozen in time following the exodus of all the young people to the city for better opportunities. There’s a brief moment where it appears that the story will explore the aging of small towns in India, but that spark is quickly snuffed.

Instead, we get flashbacks to Akash’s childhood, which he spent dressed as Oliver Twist even though it was the 1990s. Akash’s grandpa (played by Rishi Kapoor) hoped his bratty grandson would one day take over his photo studio. Little Akash only dreamed of marrying his true love, Shruti (played as an adult by Yami Gautam).

Teenage Akash abruptly leaves town to attend college in the city, without so much as a goodbye to Shruti. The plot offers no explanation for his decision. It only happens as a pretext to separate the sweethearts.

Sanam Re routinely takes such things for granted, failing to assign the characters motivations for their actions. The “why” behind an action doesn’t matter, so long as the plot is advanced.

The film also takes for granted that the audience will sympathize with Akash simply because he is the protagonist, overlooking the fact that Akash is a selfish jerk. He abandons his family and friends more than once, always putting his own feelings first. As he says: “Destiny wants it. Because I want it.”

Dutta’s story is built with Akash at the center of the universe, and Shruti only exists to further Akash’s development. The reason she rebuffs his romantic overtures when they reunite as adults is cliched and predictable.

Yet there’s a reason for Shruti to exist, which is more than can be said for the character Akanksha (Urvashi Rautela). Her backstory ham-fistedly positions her as the third member of a  grade school love triangle, which doesn’t ultimately matter to the plot. Akanksha only reappears in the adult portion of the storyline so that Akash can seduce her, thus allowing director Khosla Kumar to objectify Rautela in the grossest way possible.

In keeping with her outdated styling, Khosla Kumar insists that female performers wear skimpy outfits no matter how obviously cold the climate is. In one scene, you can see Gautam’s breath, even though she’s wearing only shorts and a belly shirt.

Many of the film’s jokes are homophobic, racist, or made at the expense of overweight people. Khosla Kumar and Dutta refuse to acknowledge that they are making movies in the 21st century.

Samrat’s delivery during romantic scenes is too slimy to qualify him as a swoon-worthy leading man, no matter how chiseled his abs may be. When Gautam isn’t absurdly chipper, she’s forgettable. Just like Sanam Re.

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Movie Review: Badlapur (2015)

Badlapur_Poster3.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Badlapur is a jaw-dropping thriller that examines the perils of revenge. After a pair of delightful comic performances in his two previous films, Varun Dhawan shines as a grieving husband who becomes a monster.

Heed the tagline at the end of the Badlapur trailer: “Don’t miss the beginning.” The movie opens with a bank robbery and carjacking. The owner of the car (played by Yami Gautam) and her young son are killed in gruesome — if somewhat accidental — fashion during the escape attempt. One of the robbers (played by Vinay Pathak) flees with the loot, while the other, Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), turns himself in to the police.

Badlapur‘s plot follows two parallel stories: Liak’s life behind bars, and the quest for revenge undertaken by Raghu (Dhawan), husband of Misha (Gautam) and father of their son.

The movie is clearly inspired by the Korean film I Saw the Devil — most obviously in a scene in which a man in a car pulls up to a stranded female motorist — which was remade in India last year as Ek Villain. Badlapur is a more fitting successor to the Korean film than the acknowledged remake.

What differentiates Badlapur‘s lead character from the secret service agent at the core of I Saw the Devil is that Raghu has no special skills to aid his revenge quest. He works in advertising before the murders, and takes a job as a factory foreman after Liak is imprisoned.

Because he’s just a regular guy, Raghu’s plans seem a little disorganized. It’s not clear when he will feel his vengeance complete. He intends to wait until Liak’s twenty-year prison sentence is over, then follow Liak when he retrieves his share of the money from Harman (Pathak), his accomplice. Raghu’s timetable is accelerated when a well-meaning-but-naive charity worker, Shoba (Divya Dutta), asks Raghu to petition for Liak’s early release so he can seek medical treatment.

Raghu is content to wait to enact his revenge upon Liak and Harman, but he has far less patience for the women who willingly maintain relationships with the criminals. This goes for Shoba, Harman’s wife, Koko (Radhika Apte), and especially Liak’s girlfriend, Jimli (Huma Qureshi).

Jimli is first to experience Raghu’s rage. Because she is a prostitute, Raghu has no compunction about raping her, thus “ruining” her for Liak. That Raghu feels his money can compensate Jimli for the rape is the sign that he’s gone off the deep end. When Liak asks him what makes the two of them so different, Raghu doesn’t have a good answer.

Every performance in Badlapur is pitch perfect. Dutta and Apte are sympathetic, and Qureshi is superb. Pathak doesn’t get as much screentime as Siddiqui, but he features in the movie’s best scene, in which Harman and Raghu silently size each other up as they ride in an elevator.

Siddiqui is great, but Liak’s character is tricky to embrace. There’s only so much he can do since he spends much of the film in jail, and every scene reinforces that he’s a bad guy. The volume of storytime devoted to Liak has less to do with the character and more to do with a desire to keep Siddiqui on screen for as long as possible.

In only his fourth film, Dhawan extends his acting range in impressive fashion. His portrayal of Raghu is chilling. He’s far scarier than Liak or Harman, but he also has the capacity to act normal when it serves his purpose.

Badlapur has trouble maintaining momentum early on. Raghu’s brutalization of Jimli is followed by flashbacks to his romance with Misha and low-key scenes of Liak’s exploits in jail. Raghu feels a bit absent from the film’s ultimate resolution, but perhaps that fits given that he isn’t a criminal mastermind capable of engineering a dramatic climax.

One thing director Sriram Raghavan excels at is sound design. There isn’t much in the way of background music in Badlapur, and the movie is often punctuated by street noise like barking dogs. The undercurrent of everyday sounds makes the film feel more realistic, heightening its impact.

Not a movie for the faint of heart, Badlapur rewards its audience with great performances and a nuanced take on the revenge genre. If nothing else, it establishes Varun Dhawan as the most exciting young actor in Bollywood today.

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Movie Review: Action Jackson (2014)

Action_Jackson_21.5 Stars (out of 4)

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If you were hoping for something new from director Prabhu Deva, you’ll be disappointed. Action Jackson (which isn’t actually a character’s name in film) is just as disorganized and misogynistic as R… Rajkumar and Rowdy Rathore, despite a solid effort by leading man Ajay Devgn.

I’ll do my best to spoil as little as possible about the plot, but it’s hard to do so given how all-over-the-place the story is.

Devgn plays Vishi, a typical macho Bollywood hero who’s prone to drinking and fighting but has a heart of gold. While visiting his friend Musa (Kunaal Roy Kapoor, butt of the film’s many fat jokes) in Mumbai, Vishi meets pathologically unlucky Khushi (Sonakshi Sinha).

Khushi’s luck changes for the better after she walks in on Vishi in a changing room and then in a bathroom. She starts hanging around him in the hopes of catching Vishi with his pants down again, thereby making her lucky enough to land a rich, American husband.

The first hour of the film is spent on Vishi’s and Khushi’s budding romance, and it’s pretty funny. Prabhu Deva pokes fun at Devgn’s limited dance abilities by making Vishi bust moves whenever he hears music. Devgn’s “robot” is among the worst I’ve ever seen, and it’s all the more charming because of it.

As competent as he is at action, Devgn’s best genre is comedy. He’s quite funny in his storyline with Sinha, who pairs with him nicely.

Interspersed through the romantic storyline are scenes of goons and cops hunting for Vishi at the behest of a Bangkok-based don named Xavier. This story arc takes over after about an hour, and Sinha only shows up a few more times in the film.

The next portion of the film is a flashback about the Xavier’s former right-hand man, AJ (also Devgn, though I won’t specify how Vishi and AJ are connected). After establishing a light, cute tone at the start, the flashback is stunningly brutal.

When Prabhu Deva tries to reestablish a comedic tone later in Action Jackson, it doesn’t work. It took time to cast that comic spell, and it can’t be brought back instantaneously. Plus, after watching a AJ’s wife (Yami Gautam) get punched in the face repeatedly, I just wasn’t in the mood to laugh.

The flashback is also when Prabhu Deva’s troubling view of women — and specifically their sexuality — rears its ugly head again. Like Sinha, Gautam also plays a virtuous character (whose name I’m not sure of). We know this because they both wear floral prints, and usually long pants and long-sleeved tops. Their only desire is to get their men to give up drinking and fighting.

In contrast is Marina (Manasvi Mamgai), the don’s sister. She’s introduced after she’s been kidnapped, and AJ is sent to rescue her. Her kidnappers threaten to rape her, throwing water on her white blouse before unbuttoning it to reveal her bedazzled bra.

Hypothetical question: if Xavier had a brother instead of a sister, would the kidnappers have threatened to rape him?

Prabhu Deva makes an unsettling choice during the scene of AJ’s rescue attempt. Marina gets turned on while AJ chops down her would-be attackers. The song playing in the background — a blatant rip-off of Michael Bublé’s “Feeling Good” — sings about her beauty as she sits aroused in a forced state of semi-undress.

After her rescue, bikini-clad Marina sexually propositions AJ. He turns her down, prompting Marina to send Xavier’s goons to attack the character played by Gautam. They hit her, but they don’t threaten her with sexual violence.

So the chaste, modestly dressed woman isn’t threatened with rape, but the sexually aggressive, scantily clad woman is. The implication is that, for a woman who enjoys consensual sex, rape probably isn’t a big deal. Hell, she might even like it.

Will producers please stop giving Prabhu Deva money to direct films? He can’t do it responsibly. Given that I was the only one in my showing of Action Jackson, maybe other people are as sick of his movies as I am.

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Movie Review: Total Siyapaa (2014)

Total_Siyappa_poster1.5 Stars (out of 4)

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Total Siyapaa (“Total Chaos“) could’ve been a cute romantic comedy about the power of love to overcome cultural differences. Instead, the level of humor never rises above ethnocentric cheap shots. It’s a missed opportunity.

Ali Zafar plays Aman, a Pakistani musician who’s on the receiving end of nearly every abuse one could throw at his country. He arrives in London to meet his girlfriend, Asha (Yami Gautam), only to be arrested by a white police officer who suspects Aman of being a terrorist.

Things get worse when Aman meets Asha’s family. They really, really, really hate Pakistanis. In fact, the only defining characteristic of Asha’s younger brother, Manav (Anuj Pandit), is his hatred for and desire to kill Pakistanis. Naturally, Asha failed to tell anyone in her family whence Aman hails.

Once Aman meets the family — headed by a matriarch played by Kiron Kher — there are plenty of opportunities for situational comedy. Aman’s behavior grows more erratic due to his social discomfort and his realization that he may have accidentally killed Asha’s father, who was hit in the head by a container of frozen soup Aman dropped out the window.

Asha’s mom gamely tries to overcome her prejudices and accept Aman for her daughter’s sake, even as Aman’s goofy antics make it hard to understand what Asha sees in him. The film’s most successful scenes feature Kher and Zafar, who share a nice comic chemistry.

Over and over the jokes in Total Siyapaa return to slams against Pakistanis, well after the film has exhausted that humorous vein. The climactic argument that nearly drives Aman and Asha apart involves them shouting nationalist insults at one another.

For good measure, the white cop from the beginning of the film returns near the end to refer to a mixed group of Indian and Pakistani young men as “stinky terrorists.”

The whole experience feels like being stuck at a family gathering while an elderly relative tells a series of vaguely racist jokes, heedless of the uncomfortable expressions on the faces of his audience. There’s not much point in speaking out, since it’s not like you can change his mind, so you just sit there and wait for the joke teller to either run out of material or get up to refill his beverage.

As Total Siyapaa plods along, it’s easy to see how the movie could’ve been better. It has a solid fish-out-of-water premise; it has some decent visual gags; and it has tried-and-true comic actors in Kiron Kher and Anupam Kher, who plays Asha’s father.

If only director Eeshwar Nivas and writer Neeraj Pandey had dialed the Pakistani jokes way back after the first half hour, Total Siyapaa could’ve been pretty good.

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Movie Review: Vicky Donor (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

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Vicky Donor is a reminder to Bollywood that a clever story is more important than star power when it comes to making a good movie.

Anupama Chopra recently wrote in the Hindustan Times about a new wave of “high concept” movies coming out of India. The term refers to a movie based on a simple premise but with an interesting or ironic twist, the film equivalent of a catchy pop song. The accessibility of the story sells itself, which is a new development in star-obsessed Bollywood.

Ayushmann Khurrana and Yami Gautam — newcomers to the Hindi film industry — helm Vicky Donor, a romantic comedy about a professional sperm donor. Khurrana is Vicky, a 25-year-old slacker who lives with his mother and grandmother above his mom’s beauty salon.

Only reluctantly does Vicky agree to become a donor. He caves under the relentless pressure of Dr. Chaddha (Annu Kapoor), the owner of a fertility clinic with marginal success rates. Chaddha — who claims to have a sixth sense for these things — sees in handsome, athletic Vicky a potential supplier of high quality genetic material. He explains that his upper-middle class clientele will pay big bucks in hopes of raising the next David Beckham or Aishwarya Rai.

When Vicky finally hands over a sample to Chaddha, Vicky’s little swimmers are given the highest marks for quality. Soon, Vicky is making regular donations and reaping the financial rewards while trying to woo a lovely banker named Ashima (Gautam). When Ashima confesses a secret about her romantic past, Vicky balks at the chance to tell her what he really does for a living. This creates big problems later on.

The subject matter naturally lends itself to jokes, but Khurrana and Gautam play their characters with complete sincerity. They’re nice young people who go through a relatively normal courtship, despite Vicky’s secret occupation.

As far as Vicky and Ashima know, the biggest obstacle they face as a couple is their families’ prejudices. Vicky’s Punjabi family distrusts Ashima’s Bengali family, and vice versa. For international audiences unfamiliar with Indian regional biases, there’s more than enough exposition to explain the hostility. That the film does so in a funny way is a bonus.

The movie is ultimately stolen by Kapoor as Dr. Chaddha, whose relentless pursuit of Vicky’s gametes is hilarious. Chaddha is a man obsessed with his work, from the toy sperm hanging from his rearview mirror to his t-shirt depicting a field of swimming sperm alongside the words: “Do it!”

Kapoor certainly delivers the laughs, but he makes the doctor more than just comic relief. Chaddha genuinely cares for Vicky, and he tries to fill a void in fatherless Vicky’s life. It’s touching the way Vicky’s low points distress Chaddha, who treats Vicky as more than just a stud.

There’s one insensitive moment near the end of the film that stands out as a negative in an otherwise good-natured script. Ashima affectionately refers to a cute East Asian child as “that little ching chong.” While I don’t think any malice was intended, the term is still offensive.

Overall, however, Vicky Donor is a surprisingly sweet and innocent film about an adult topic. It’s worth checking out.

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